A few months ago, my family and I packed up our belongings and moved across the country. While we did our best to ensure that all of our precious belongings made it onto the moving truck, some things we could not take with us–like all of our friends.
While I left behind a tight network of people I love, I was most concerned for my eldest daughter. My 4-year-old had attended the same school with the same group of friends for practically 2 years. That is half of her life! While I figured I would have no problem making new friends since I had 30-something years of practice under my belt, I feared my daughter would not know what to do, so I made it my mission to coach her through the learning experience.
I googled kid-friendly events and made a calendar that had somewhere to go every half hour. Sometimes, we were even double booked. Friendship: check!
We attended our first event and walked into a sea of parents and children smiling and talking to one another. I plastered a smile on my face and stood there awkwardly. What do I do? What should I say? Is it weird if I just walk up to another mom, interrupt her and ask how she has friends and could I please share them? The sad reality was that I didn’t know where to start because I hadn’t had to make new friends from scratch who were not in some way related to school or work in decades. I was completely in shock.
Meanwhile, while my brain and I were having a heated panic session, my daughter had already walked up to the nearest child and asked if he wanted to color with her. How did she do that? It turns out that we can learn a thing or two from toddlers that are unburdened by social norms. Here are my daughter’s top 5 tips and tricks for building friendships:
Ask someone to be your friend
Parks, libraries, food courts. Wherever my daughter is, she can make a friend. She simply asks someone, “Hey, can we be friends?” Nine times out of ten, this results in frolicking through the park or playing chase.
Doing this as an adult would yield stage 5 stalker-status, but being open about wanting to strike up a conversation can be pretty charming. “Would you mind if I asked you a question? We’re new here,” or the like would absolutely do the trick.
Take turns and share
Recently, while at the park, my daughter saw a little girl crying. Instead of ignoring her as many adults would do, she walked up to her and asked if she wanted to play with one of her toys to make her feel better. Within minutes, she and the little girl were pretending they were pirates.
Is someone looking for the time? Pull out your phone. Could someone use hand purifier because they just changed a diaper? Share yours. Do you need help snapping the back clasp of your baby carrier? Ask someone. Being friendly leads to friends.
Schedule a playdate
When my daughter has had a great time hanging out with another child and wants to see them again, she invites them over for a play date or a sleepover.
That may come off a little too strong for grown-ups, but asking to be friends on Facebook or to exchange emails is the perfect equivalent for those who are socially aware.
We don’t have to be forever friends
When my daughter’s acquired playmate needed to go home, she hugged her and walked away to find another buddy.
Not everyone has to be a forever friend and that’s OK. As adults, we put a lot of pressure on relationships. Either we have to be friends or we have to sit silently next to each other as strangers. Why? You don’t need to be friends with everyone to enjoy their company.
Give yourself a warm-up period
By now, I am sure you have caught on that I have a hyper-social child. Like a lot of other children though, she can also be an observer.
The other day, my daughter tried out a new gymnastics class. For 30 minutes, she sat to the side watching the other children somersault and run and did not join. Afterward, I assumed she would not want to go back, so I did not sign her up for anymore classes. A few weeks later, we drove by the establishment and she told me she wanted to go to another class. “I wasn’t ready before, but I’m ready now,” she told me.
Give yourself some slack. Like your child, you’re just a human. If you’re intimidated, sit back until you’re ready to be social. Heck, leave the class, park or event and come back another day to try again.
If you stop to examine how your child reacts in social situations, I’m willing to bet that you will learn valuable skills from them. Sure, you cannot echo everything that they do–hitting someone for touching the rock you saw on the ground would be frowned upon in today’s society; however, there are moments as parents that we can choose to turn the table and become the student. Sometimes, the best teachers happen to be pint-sized.